Religious leaders, congregants should be more cautious after reopening

A service in Ngong Road forest on June 14. Churches and believers adopted alternative services and masses after the government closed worship places. The religious centres are to reopen in a few days. PHOTO | SILA KIPLAGAT | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • For four months now, millions of believers have been forced to connect with their maker in the most unusual ways after churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious places were closed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The palpable excitement that followed President Uhuru Kenyatta's decision to re-open places of worship was understandable.

For four months now, millions of believers have been forced to connect with their maker in the most unusual ways after churches, mosques, synagogues and other religious places were closed to curb the spread of Covid-19.

President Kenyatta said places of worship will be re-opened in phases following advice from the Inter Faith Council.

Those who are elderly, digitally illiterate or lacking internet connection and requisite devices missed out on church services for what seemed like ages, while those who partook in virtual ones mainly felt like mere spectators.

UNPRECEDENTED BAN

But even as the religious institutions open their doors again for in-person worship this week, it is prudent for the relevant leadership to reflect on what triggered the unprecedented ban on congregational worship and consider how to make the most of the re-opening without aggravating the coronavirus crisis.

The ban on social gatherings was introduced after the first Covid-19 case was reported in Kenya in March. Public health experts worldwide have since agreed that churches, like entertainment joints, offer the best possible setting for the transmission of the virus due to many activities that involve the emission of oral fluid droplets.

Over 10,000 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in Kenya since March. But this did not stop religious leaders from relentlessly pushing the government to reopen places of worship, some even obstinately threatening to sue the State if this did not happen.

The head of state gave them exactly what they wanted. But the re-opening comes at the worst possible time as far as the pandemic is concerned. The numbers have surpassed the 10,000 mark, with well over 2,000 cases recorded last week alone.

It was in the same week Kenya reported the highest number of daily cases. The president made it abundantly clear the country was not fully prepared to handle the pandemic; only a handful of counties have the requisite 300 isolation beds and the necessary critical care services for a possible surge.

DANGER

This best illustrates the clear and present danger we face, and the need for religious leaders to take all necessary precautions as churches reopen.

By now, they should have fully familiarised themselves with guidelines regarding congregation size, social distancing, duration of services, use of face masks, hand washing, frequent cleaning and other protocols set by the Interfaith Council on the national response to coronavirus pandemic.

They should be well aware of crises occasioned by the resumption of physical worship services elsewhere in the world and thus treat adherence to the guidelines as a matter of life and death.

While many believers are known to fanatically trust religious leaders, this is the time to be alert and not be led like a lamb to the slaughter.

In Texas, USA, about 50 people contracted the disease after a pastor told congregants they could hug one another once again following the resumption of services. It was a stupid decision the clergyman is now publicly regretting.

CORONAVIRUS

Let all the ministers here avoid whipping up the emotions of the faithful and asking them to engage in hitherto harmless behavior that could now unceremoniously lead one to an early grave.

 If anything, the religious leaders should exploit the loyalty of their flock to reach out to the ignorant doubting Thomases out there who still think coronavirus does not exist; there are so many of them.

They should not waste this chance handed to them by the President to finally play an active role in the fight against the pandemic. Let the religious leadership thus adhere to the set guidelines religiously, and without questioning.

Let them ensure that after all is said and done, they would be counted among those who shepherded Kenya through the pandemic, not those who hauled the country from the frying pan into the fire.

Milan Kiplagat is a regular commentator on social, economic and political affairs.